MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. – The body of missing Japanese adventurer Hyoichi Kono was found Thursday in the frozen Arctic Ocean about a week after he disappeared during an attempt to travel from the North Pole to his native Ehime Prefecture, his support group said Thursday.
Kono’s body was found tied by a length of rope to his sled in the ocean underneath the ice by a local member of his support group at around 6:45 a.m. Japan time, the group said.
Support group members said they suspect he had tied himself to the sled in an attempt to cross over a crack in the ice when it gave way. Because there were no footprints in the area, the sled and body may have been adrift for some time, they added.
Kono, 43, was the first Japanese to walk solo to the North Pole, a feat he accomplished in 1997. He left the North Pole on March 27 to attempt a 15,000-km journey home on foot and by kayak via Canada, Alaska and Sakhalin. The last known contact with him was made at around 11 a.m. May 17 from Eureka, near the Arctic Ocean, the group said.
Other members of the group, as well as Kono’s wife, Junko, were to fly to Resolute today.
Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato expressed his deep sorrow at the news. “I offer my condolences and at the same time, express anew my respect for Kono, who had given us all a wonderful dream and excitement.”
The support group’s office in Matsuyama was grief-stricken.
Toji Goto, head of the office, said the search for Kono had continued with high hopes that he was alive somewhere.
“It is regrettable, but it is a good thing he was found,” Goto said.
A chartered search plane had spotted Kono’s sled and some belongings Monday but did not find the adventurer. The Canadian air force, which had also conducted a search, gave up Tuesday, saying there was no chance he was still alive.
Kono’s support team resumed the search on its own Wednesday, flying a chartered plane to Kono’s base camp in the Canadian hamlet of Resolute. They arrived at the Arctic Ocean the following morning about 1 km from where his sled was spotted.
In 1997, Kono became only the third person in the world to walk solo to the North Pole. His other feats include a 5,000-km trek through the Sahara desert in 1991.
Reporters rushed to Kono’s residence in Mitaka, western Tokyo, but no one was available for comment. The support group earlier phoned Kono’s wife, Junko, 43, to inform her of his death.
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